Dear Aish Family,
Chanuka is undoubtedly the most famous Jewish holiday of the year. At Aish we have hosted hundreds of Chanuka parties around the globe this week. We were blessed to host many Jews at the Dan Family Aish World Center including our friends from the UJA Federation of NY. Millions of people around the world have flocked to Aish.com to glean more information about how to celebrate the holiday. I was blessed to share some thoughts on Chanuka last night on the news show American Agenda.
On a superficial level some will suggest that since it occurs during the holiday season for other religions, people identify with Chanuka. I don’t think that quite explains the hype. We have so many other holidays that dovetail with other religions. There must be something else at its core.
There is a cynical joke that Jews like to tell, that every holiday boils down to:
“They tried to kill us. The Jews triumphed. Let’s eat!”
While this is a generally accurate description of many of our holidays, it is not true of Chanuka. The Greeks were not interested in killing Jews. They just wanted to kill our spirit.
The Greeks tried to ban Jews from worshiping the Almighty. They tried to ban circumcision. They tried to ban Shabbat. They tried to ban the study of Torah. This was not a typical assault against the Jews. The Greeks were happy to let the Jews live in peace as long as we forsook the Almighty and Jewish wisdom.
The ‘secret sauce’ that has made the Jews into the longest-lasting nation to walk the earth was the greatest gift the Almighty has ever bestowed on man. That of Jewish wisdom, better known as the Torah. The Maccabees understood that to forsake the Torah was to lose our connection to the Almighty. To lose our connection to each other. To sever the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood. It would have meant the death of the Jewish Nation.
Therefore we fought back and held up the Menorah as a beacon of light to get us through the darkness. Today we face similar challenges. So many Jews have no connection to the Almighty. So many Jews have no connection to Jewish wisdom. So many Jews have no love for or connection to Israel. My friends and partners, we must serve as a beacon of light and goodness for our greater Jewish family. We must be the Maccabees of today and help reconnect with our fellow Jews.
Please join us as we press forward with AISHVision 2030. As we bring light into the darkness. As we engage the unengaged. As we spread Jewish wisdom to the masses. Let us all roll up our sleeves so that next Chanuka we can celebrate with so many more of our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
Happy Chanuka and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Steven Burg